Bookbinding: “the cover is the face of a book”

Whether it’s the Frankfurt or Leipzig Book Fair or the traditional Oldenburg Children’s and Young People’s Book Fair (KIBUM) as the largest non-commercial fair of its kind in Germany – even in the digital age, books still retain a great deal of importance. Historical works are even preserved for posterity with costly restoration.

Oldenburg Can a book be more than just a few or quite a few written pages between two cardboard covers? If you look at old books from the Middle Ages, the binding alone is a real treasure. Apart from the content.

What is meant by the term book? At the Dokumenta 14 in Athens in 2017, you could have scrap metal and other small parts, which an artist exhibited as a pile of artwork, pressed together into a book. Between two sturdy cardboard covers a book was recognizable. Today there are great cookbooks that colorfully depict the tastiest dishes. There are children’s books that stimulate the little ones’ creativity and imagination. And yes, there is also literature, which presses novels, essays, poems and other mental effusions between two covers. Not to mention all the scientific "stuff" that has to be published. The technique is ultimately always the same. It is the last operation before the contents reach the counter or the bookshelf.

Elisabeth Reil: Restoring books

Elisabeth Reil, book restorer from Bad Zwischenahn (Ammerland), could list many examples of why a book is more than just a collection of written pages. "The path to self-employment was not easy," says Reil. Elisabeth Reil has benefited from the diversity of her career: she completed her training in the private sector and then worked in a government agency. She is a master bookbinder. Especially in restoration, it is important that the book is usable again afterwards, says Reil.

Norbert Wessels: Teaching bookbinding

Norbert Wessels is a trained bookbinder and works in a completely different way. His goal is to teach other people how to bind books (more information and dates at Tel. 0157 85228852), says the former owner of the bookbindery "Im Gebinde" in Rastede (Ammerland). As a binding he even uses very finely cut disused abandoned wasps’ nests. The surface of the wasp’s nest is cut into very fine slices and then glued onto the book covers.

Diverse book art

True artists today work with the techniques traditionally associated with bookmaking: These are letterpress printing, on hand-operated presses, hand typesetting from lead and wood type, woodcut and linocut, and hand bookbinding. They use the rich variety of papers: from handmade watermarked handmade paper to designer paper with surface embossing, from delicate glassine sheets to handmade colored paper, from gossamer Japanese handmade paper to rustic strawboard. Bookbinding includes all the steps from arranging and assembling the pages to binding. Layers of a book until the book block is provided with a binding and the subsequent decoration. Bookbinding also refers to the manual processing of an existing book.

Johanna Laabs: Bookbinding as a vocation

Bookbinding, which today takes place in the large publishing houses or as a small fine workshop with special orders. Bookbinding is the last step in production – but at the same time the part that first catches the eye of the viewer. Because the design of the cover transports the content directly to it. And what’s more: without saddle stitching, adhesive or wire-o binding, and thread stitching, printed products would be nothing more than paper shuffles.

Until a few years ago, the Stalling publishing house existed in Oldenburg. Today, Johanna Laabs runs the largest bookbindery in Oldenburg: The Henckus Bookbindery. "The binding is the face of a book," says Laabs. At Henckus, the tradition of the craft is combined with modern bookbinding techniques. Henckus binds high-quality company brochures as well as bachelor’s and master’s theses. Master’s thesis. The production of menus, albums, family chronicles and binders is also in good hands at Henckus. 90 years of experience lie there between the books. Laabs has been the responsible owner since 2009.

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